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Cablevision Makes An Impression

Programmatic models dominate the digital world today and they are also starting to invade traditional television. Cablevision Systems, a cable operator that has historically been on the leading edge of new forms of advertising, finds itself there again as it tests how automated processes combined with impression-based campaigns can produce more effective advertising campaigns for its clients. Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner caught up with Ben Tatta, president of Cablevision Media Sales, to discuss those activities and what else is on the horizon.

NTV: Programmatic TV still seems to mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you and to Cablevision?

Ben Tatta: It’s just the automation for the buying of audience-based media. We translate that into impressions rather than spots. The big changes, from our perspective, are moving from spots sold on a GRP [gross rating point] basis to impressions sold on a CPM [cost per 1,000 impressions] basis, and expressing inventory in terms of impressions and providing an automated method for buying audiences.

NTV: Get us up to speed on Cablevision’s trial and deployment activity around programmatic TV.

BT: We’ve recently embarked on a pilot with three of the top agencies—GroupM, Starcom [MediaVest Group] and Horizon [Media]—whereby we’re testing a new platform, what we call our Total Audience Application. A few years ago, we introduced Total Audience Data, which is our census-level audience data service that we provide to advertisers as well as programmers that want to get real deep insight into audience measurement.

This basically is a platform that allows the buy side, the agencies, to get access to that data as well as the inventory. In essence, they can plan a very granularly targeted campaign. For instance, if an auto manufacturer is targeting in-market buyers for an SUV, it can plug into those parameters and get a sense of how many households meet those criteria within a footprint. If their desire was to buy on an impression basis, they get to plug in what their impression goals are, what their target CPM is, and it will generate a schedule that will support both their impressions as well as their CPM targets.

It’s nearing what has been done on the Web; the difference is we’re doing it with television inventory, which is in finite supply.

NTV: What’s the status of the pilot? How extensive is it?

BT: Even though this is the first external deployment of the platform, we’ve been using the platform for 18 months to support things internally. We run hundreds of impression-based campaigns or audience-based campaigns that have been bought on kind of a programmatic basis. The only difference is that those requests came in as a manual [request for proposal] or an email or an insertion order, then we would use the platform to run the schedule and generate the results back to the client. This more recent development was the first where we basically threw the keys to the agency and allowed them direct access to the platform.

MCN: What are some of the driving interests in impression-based campaigns?

BT: By buying targeted impressions, you eliminate a significant amount of waste. Depending on the type of audience an advertiser is looking for, historically spots were purchased based on age and gender alone. One of the biggest developments with impression-based buying is that those impressions can be defined in very granular terms that are more relevant to the client.

NTV: Have those expectations lined up with the results from the pilots?

BT: I would say north of 90% of anything we’ve measured showed material lift in terms of the sales effectiveness.

Programming has become another big category for us. In that case, we don’t necessarily have to chase third-party sales data to determine effectiveness. With our audience data—for the season premiere of, say, Shark Tank, you can measure tune-in conversions. So, with households that were exposed to a tune-in ad, [you can determine] what percentage of them actually tuned into the show and how much audience retention was there after they tuned in.

NTV: When programmatic TV scales up as you hope it will, do you think you will move to a total impression-based model, or will there always be a place for spot-based approaches?

BT: I think there will always be demand for spot-based buys, whether it’s a brand that really wants to embed itself in the content, or a brand that wants to be adjacent to a sporting event.

I think the composition of the buying will change and there will be a growing concentration of impression-based. The two can work together.

Just because you’re buying a Super Bowl spot doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be provided impression-based measurement. I think it will be a blend of the two. But I do think that the real growth going forward will be on an impression basis.


Modi Media worked with Cablevision’s Total Audience Application platform for more than three months, using it for recent automotive sales and network tune-in campaigns. Some results:

LUXURY CARS: Using third-party DMV data and Cablevision’s census-level data, 686,000 households fit the targeting criteria for the campaign. The conversion analysis found 75 incremental sales that could be directly attributed to the $380,000 investment in addressable television, producing a return on ad sales of $2.8 million.

A CABLE NEWS NETWORK: Set-top box data was used to target “lapsed viewers” (homes that watched the previous season), and viewers of similar programming. Based on Cablevision’s census-level data, 963,000 homes fit the targeting criteria. The campaign drove an increase in viewership of 19.4%.